In spring, a naturalist’s fancy turns to thoughts of Timberdoodlin’, and that means heading out into the spring twilight, finding a brushy meadow, and listening for the buzzy “Peent!” of the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) . AKA the Timberdoodle, this odd bird (it’s a shorebird that doesn’t live near the shore) performs a strange and stunning sky dance that is a must-see for any wildlife lover.
Join the guys as they focus on the fascinating natural history of this bird and head out on a cold March evening to see if they can witness the Woodcock in action.
This episode was recorded on March 31, 2019 at the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in North Java, NY.
During the episode, the guys mentioned that they thought the head striping might be useful for differentiating the Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) from the American Woodcock. This was correct. As you can see in this comparison, the Snipe’s head striping runs front to back, while the Woodcock’s runs laterally.
Bill also made a vague reference to the light levels at which male Woodcock’s will begin their courtship flights. In John Eastman’s Birds of Forest, Yard, and Thicket, Eastman claims that, “…flights usually begin at a light measurement of 0.05 to 2 footcandles, about forty-five minutes before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset.”
Bill and Steve were a little rusty on precocial and altricial, two words that refer to the degree of development of young birds at hatching. Precocial birds, like the Woodcock, hatch with their eyes open, covered in down, and leave the nest within two days. Altricial birds, in contrast, hatch with their eyes closed, have little to no down, and are not capable of departing the nest quickly. All passerine birds are altricial. Keep in mind that this is a spectrum and that some bird species are semi-precocial and semi-altricial.
Near the end of the episode, Bill recalled hearing that the Woodcock’s ears are situated in front of its eyes. A search online found sites describing the ears as situated under the eyes, while others described them as being in front of the eyes. Bill tracked down an image of a woodcock skull , and the ears look to be below, and just slightly in front of, the eyes. He could not, however, find any reliable evidence that they aid in locating earthworms. BirdNote did do a quick, thorough piece on the anatomy of the Woodcock’s head.
Blackman, E.B., Reynolds, J.W., DePerno, C.S., Moorman, C.E. and Peterson, M.N., 2010. Earthworm species available to American woodcock (Scolopax minor) on the wintering grounds in eastern North Carolina, USA. Megadrilogica, 14(4), pp.59-64.
Burnie, D. 2012. Nature Guide: Birds: The World in Your Hands. DK.
Choate, E.A., 1973. dictionary of American bird names.
Eastman, J., 1997. Birds of Forest, Yard, and Thicket. University of Illinois Press.
French, A.D., Conway, W.C., Cañas-Carrell, J.E. and Klein, D.M., 2017. Exposure, effects and absorption of lead in american woodcock (Scolopax minor): a review. Bulletin of environmental contamination and toxicology, 99(3), pp.287-296.
Heinrich, B., 2016. Note on the Woodcock Rocking Display. Northeastern Naturalist, 23(1).
Kaufman, K., 2011. Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding: Understanding What You See and Hear. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
National Audubon Society, 1994. NAtional Audubon Society: Field Guide to Birds-Eastern Region. Alfred A. Knopf.
Robbins, C.S., Bruun, B., Zim, H.S. and Zim, H.S., 2001. Birds of North America: a guide to field identification. Macmillan.
Stokes, D.W., 2010. The Stokes field guide to the birds of North America. Little, Brown.
Vuilleumier, F. ed., 2016. American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America. DK Publishing.
Wells, D., 2001. 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names. Algonquin Books.
All About Birds – American Woodcock
Backward Present – Origin of the Term Sniper
Sand Creek Almanac – Sky Dance (excerpt from A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold)
Suan Hsi Yong - Woodcock Peents and Skydance (Thermal Infrared)
NPS | N. Lewis - American Woodcock (2014)
Sponsorship of this episode provided by Gumleaf Boots, USA